Tag: Racism

Former City Employee Sues for “Reverse Racism,” Rufo Tells Tall Tales to Bellevue Audience

1. A former Seattle Human Services Department employee is suing the city for alleged discrimination based on his race (white) and his gender (male).

The lawsuit, filed by a California-based libertarian group called the Pacific Legal Foundation on behalf of ex-city employee Joshua Diemert, claims that HSD failed to promote Diemert and provide him with the significant raises he was “promised” while promoting less-qualified women of color. The suit also alleges that Diemert’s immediate supervisor, a woman of color, engaged in “unrelenting coercion and racial harassment,” forcing him to quit his job instead of accommodating an unspecified medical condition that Diemert claims was exacerbated by people constantly talking about white privilege around him.

Many of the examples of “racial harassment” listed in the lawsuit appear to involve Diemert inserting himself into other people’s conversations to make comments his colleagues perceived as racist, such as an incident where he claims he was chastised for “joining” his coworkers’ lunchroom conversations about white privilege, which occurred while he was “trying to cook his food.” In another example, Diemert claims a supervisor “berated” him for “attempting to correct [a coworker’s] discriminatory behavior toward a white applicant.” In a third, he accuses the city of forcing employees to participate in “critical race theory” during a training at El Centro De La Raza, where his comments led a coworker to call him an “asshole” in an email to another person.

In addition to $300,000 in damages, the lawsuit asks the court to find that the city’s anti-racist policies violate the 14th Amendment (equal protection) and the 1964 Civil Rights Act (protection from discrimination on the basis of race or sex). The suit also claims that the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative “aims to end American culture because it was created by ‘white, wealthy, Christian, cis-gender, straight, non-disabled men coming from Europe who wanted to protect their place within hierarchy and empire.'” That quote comes from a city document called “Building a Relational Culture,” which says nothing about “ending American culture,” but does provide a broad framework for undoing structural racism at the city—the actual project of RSJI.

Diemert’s lawsuit, which has gotten some coverage on FOX and various right-wing websites, is one of many recent lawsuits attempting to reframe racism as something that primarily happens to white people. The Pacific Legal Foundation is responsible for many of these anti-affirmative action claims, including a lawsuit challenging Women and Minority-Owned Business (WMBE) contracting goals in California; a case accusing the University of Minnesota of discriminating against men when it cut the men’s gymnastics program; and a case alleging that elite public schools in Boston discriminate against white and Asian kids.

The city’s Human Services Department did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday, and a spokesman for the City Attorney’s Office said the city has not been served with the lawsuit yet and could not comment.

2. “Critical race theory,” unsurprisingly, was also among the topics professional troll Chris Rufo brought up at a talk last month to support the Washington Policy Center. (PubliCola reviewed a recording of the event). If you aren’t familiar with WPC, it’s the libertarian think tank that was responsible for all those confusing pro-capitalism billboards you saw around town a couple years ago. (“Free markets destroy climate change,” one read, with a Tesla logo as the “T” in “climate.”) The event, which was emceed by conservative podcaster and Project 42 “brand ambassador” Brandi Kruse, also featured former secretary of state Mike Pompeo.

Rufo, a onetime Seattle City Council candidate who spun off a job at the right-wing Discovery Institute into a career as the nation’s leading purveyor of disinformation about CRT, has since turned his attention to vilifying trans women, drag queens, and LGBTQ+ people in general. Rufo’s work is part of nationwide efforts to drive LGBTQ+ people out of public life through both legal methods—such as Florida’s notorious “Don’t Say Gay” law—and violence, including increasingly violent protests against LGBTQ+ events, including drag shows).

Kids are not being taught “fisting” in schools—but, as Rufo noted, it’s the kind of “salacious” story that gets attention from people like Tucker Carlson.

Speaking to a group of “young professionals,” Rufo bragged about his efforts to spur people to act by speaking to their emotions, even when that means ignoring “data” and facts. “I had been doing this campaign on critical race theory, doing the reports, working with the Trump White House,” Rufo said. “And all of a sudden I see something really incredible happen. I started seeing all these videos of parents at school board meetings going nuts. And that’s what you want to see.”

As an example, Rufo continued, he was pushing out stories about “the teachers union—they’re the villains, right?”—he paused for boos—”which was promoting a guide book, a kind of recipe book that was in cartoon format designed for kids, that had a guide to BDSM, sadomasochism, [and] fisting.” In reality, the “cartoon guide” is a document aimed at teenagers seeking information about queer sex, produced by a Toronto Planned Parenthood affiliate and the United Way of Greater Toronto that was linked, among many other documents, on the website of an internal NEA LGBTA+ caucus. Kids are not being taught “fisting” in schools—but, as Rufo noted, it’s the kind of “salacious” story that gets attention from people like Tucker Carlson.

Rufo also claimed a victory closer to home: The reversal of calls to “defund the police” by members of the Seattle City Council. In taking credit for this change, he claimed that Nordstrom’s flagship store in downtown Seattle, he said was “burned down” to “ashes.”  Nordstrom, which is located just a few miles from the Bellevue hotel where Rufo was speaking, remains fully intact and was bustling with holiday shoppers earlier this week.

Lambert Removed from Leadership Roles After Racist Mailer; Tried to Get Issaquah Voters Removed from Her District

By Erica C. Barnett

The King County Council voted today to remove Kathy Lambert, the East King County Republican facing a difficult reelection battle this year, from all of her leadership roles on council committees.

Earlier this month, as first reported on Twitter by PubliCola, Lambert sent a mailer to voters portraying her opponent, Sarah Perry, as a “socialist…anti-police puppet” being manipulated by the likes of Bernie Sanders, Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, Vice President Kamala Harris, and her South King County council colleague Girmay Zahilay. The message to white voters—if you elect Perry over Lambert, scary Black and brown leftists (and one Jew) will impose their agenda on your communities—was barely subtext.

The motion, sponsored by council chair Claudia Balducci, who represents Bellevue, said that Lambert’s mailer had “adversely impacted the ability of the council to conduct its business efficiently and effectively.” A related ordinance eliminated the health and human services committee, which Lambert chaired, and combined its duties with that of the law and justice committee, chaired by Zahilay.

“People know Seattle’s not going in the right direction, and they don’t want this to spread to their communities. … I don’t believe that one insensitive item should take away a person’s reputation.”—King County Councilmember Kathy Lambert

In a statement after the vote, Balducci said Lambert’s “mailer and subsequent statements have undermined our ability to work with each other, our staff’s confidence in us as leaders, and our reputation and relationships with outside organizations and agencies. Based on those impacts, it was imperative that we take concrete action quickly.”

Before the vote, the council’s Employment and Administration Committee, which includes all nine council members, held a lengthy executive session to discuss a “Personnel Matter related to Council’s Policies and Procedures Against Harassment and Discrimination. Balducci confirmed in her statement that the council is considering an investigation into whether Lambert’s mailer violated the council’s anti-harassment policy.

Both the motion and the ordinance passed unanimously, but not before Lambert gave a self-pitying, unapologetic speech that minimized the harm the mailer had caused and accused her colleagues of ulterior motives.

The council’s decision to remove her from leadership roles, Lambert said, was “clearly not about race, but about political opportunity to damage my reelection campaign.” Calling the mailer merely “one lapse in judgment” in decades on the council, Lambert accused her colleagues of trying to push “Seattle-centric ideas” by empowering Zahilay to oversee health and human services as part of his committee.

“The people in this county are worried about public safety, crime and response times due to political decisions, people are smart. They see the data and the needs. People know Seattle’s not going in the right direction, and they don’t want this to spread to their communities.”

“I am not going to allow one poorly depicted picture to find who I am,” Lambert said. After the vote, she added, “I don’t believe, as I said earlier, that one insensitive item should take away a person’s reputation, and I hope that for everybody who’s in politics, that you do understand what’s going on.”

Of course, what happens to a politician’s reputation as the result of their own actions is largely out of their control; voters will decide in November whether to reelect a conservative Republican who opposes harm reduction, has floated conspiracy theories about “shredded ballots,” supports anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers,” and has expressed anti-labor and pro-Trump views, and also sent out a racist mailer. Lambert was on her heels long before the latest controversy, for one simple reason: Her district is changing, as more people move to Issaquah and dilute the power of the white, conservative, rural areas that reliably vote for Republicans.

In late September, Lambert wrote a letter to the chair of the King County Districting Committee, which is in charge of redrawing the lines for county council districts every 10 years in response to demographic shifts, asking that the city of Issaquah be removed from her district, and that the commission shift her district’s boundaries to include more of the rural Sammamish Valley. She added that if the commission needed to move more voters out of her district, they could take some of Redmond as well. Continue reading “Lambert Removed from Leadership Roles After Racist Mailer; Tried to Get Issaquah Voters Removed from Her District”

Street Sinks Stalled, Racism in Renton, and an Election Lightning Round

1. Last year, after the COVID pandemic forced the closure of most public and publicly accessible restrooms across the city, advocates for people experiencing homelessness suggested a creative approach to help stop the spread of COVID: Cheap, portable handwashing sinks that could be installed in any location with access to a public water outlet.

The first Street Sink, a collaboration between Real Change and the University of Washington College of Built Environments, was installed outside the ROOTS young-adult shelter in the University District last May. The prototype consisted of a basic utility sink with a soap dispenser that drained into a steel trough filled with soil and water-loving plants.

The Seattle City Council added $100,000 to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s proposed 2021 budget for a street-sink pilot project last November, hoping to capitalize on the success of the prototype and expand the sinks to neighborhoods across the city. Since then, though, the project has stalled.

According to communications between staff for Seattle Public Utilities, the Department of Neighborhoods, and street-sink proponents, the city has a range of outstanding concerns, including the environment (the soil-based system is not equipped to deal with “blackwater,” or unfiltered human waste), the weather (if left unwrapped, the sinks’ pipes may not be able to withstand a hard freeze), and accessibility (the sinks, though wheelchair-accessible, are not fully ADA compliant. Neither, for that matter, are many of the city’s public restrooms).

“It’s incredibly frustrating, because we’re getting bogged down in process instead of acting with urgency” to provide people living unsheltered with soap and water to prevent the spread of communicable diseases, Tiffani McCoy, the lead organizer for Real Change, said. Since the pandemic began, there have been repeated outbreaks of hepatitis A and other communicable diseases among the city’s homeless population; in the case of a recent shigella outbreak, the rise in cases coincided with the regular winter closure of public restrooms with running water. The city provides portable toilets in locations where restrooms are closed, but these “sanicans” are not equipped with sinks and often lack hand sanitizer.

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The prototype for the Street Sink cost about $400. A more detailed budget puts the cost of each sink at just over than $750. More elaborate sinks with sewer connections or barrel collection systems would cost significantly more; last year, for example, Seattle Makers proposed a stainless-steel handwashing station that includes collection barrels, electronic sensors, a GPS connection, and components “built to withstand abuse from hammers,” for whatever reason, all at a cost of $7,250 per sink.

McCoy says $100,000 would fund the installation of 63 street sinks around the city. But the city seems unlikely to use the prototype her group designed. Instead, according to emails from the city’s Department of Neighborhoods, the city is planning to “pivot” away from the Street Sink project to a new “expanded mutual aid opportunity – the Community Water and Waste Innovation Pilot” that will “facilitate solutions that meet our safety and regulatory guidelines. For example, we will match sink prototypes without safety and blackwater issues to Real Change, or another implementing organization.”

PubliCola has reached out to the mayor’s office to find out more about the Community Water and Waste Innovation Pilot and to see if there is any timeline for the city to actually deploy the handwashing stations funded last year.

2.The Renton Chamber of Commerce issued a statement on Facebook over the weekend defending the organization and its director, Diane Dobson, against unspecified allegations of racism.

The statement read, in part, “The Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Renton Chamber of Commerce, Diane Dobson, has been a tireless champion in standing against racism and bias. She has worked to drive diversity, equity and inclusion through numerous community events and actions aimed at addressing racism in our community. The Chamber Board of Directors unanimously stands with and supports Diane as she continues to make a meaningful, positive difference in our community and region.”

A look through the comments on the post clarifies what it’s about. During the recent snowstorm, a woman (identified in by her male companion as “Robin”) threw snowballs at the car of an Asian-American passerby and—according to the text accompanying the video he took after he got out of his car to confront her—called him a “fucking ch*nk.” In the video, posted on the Youtube channel RevealKarens, the man asks the apparently intoxicated woman repeatedly why she used that term, as she grows more and more agitated and finally says she did it because he was being “a dick.”

Eventually, according to the man’s account, Dobson came by and convinced the woman to leave. In subsequent comments on the Facebook thread, the person behind the Chamber account responded to criticism by praising Dobson in increasingly lavish terms, describing her “wonderful” work in the community and referring to “reports we have received of her donations of masks to the School District for teachers and staff and many of the front line workers in essential nonprofits as well.” The responses became so focused on Dobson, the person, rather than the Chamber as an entity that many commenters assumed that the  person posting for the Chamber was Dobson herself.

Dobson’s name has appeared in PubliCola before. She has been a vocal opponent of a shelter at the Red Lion Hotel in downtown Renton and onto city streets, blaming its homeless residents for the economic downturn in downtown Renton, and reportedly threatened to revoke an LGBTQ+ organization’s Chamber membership over their advocacy in favor of the shelter.

3. Lightning-round election news:

Brianna Thomas, a legislative aide to council president and mayoral candidate Lorena González, will make her candidacy for González’ position official later this week. (González is relinquishing her seat to run for mayor.) Thomas ran once before, in 2015, for the West Seattle council seat now occupied by Lisa Herbold. Continue reading “Street Sinks Stalled, Racism in Renton, and an Election Lightning Round”

Dear Mayor Durkan: A Letter From a City Employee

Editor’s note: The writer of this letter requested anonymity in order to protect their job at the city of Seattle. This letter has been very lightly edited for style.

I am a City employee. I am white. And I am disgusted by Mayor Durkan and Seattle City Council. I write to you anonymously, as my City employer has recently provided guidance that we employees are not to speak with media, and I firmly believe that my job would be in jeopardy were I to attach my name.

This week, amidst the backdrop of protests across the country related to police abuse of force and the disparate impact of this unchecked force on communities of color, particularly Black Americans, Mayor Jenny Durkan stood in front of protestors in Seattle and sought to draw some parallel between the experience of her Irish ancestors and that of Black Americans. This is not the first time she has evidenced a total lack of understanding, appreciation, or humility as it relates to communities of color.

Here, the story is familiarly white and dominant—that the savior (Durkan) blessed an undeserving African American (Best), not because she had earned it, but to placate a protesting minority community.  Gratitude should flow.

I was an employee at the Seattle Police Department the day that Mayor Durkan announced her appointment of Carmen Best to Chief of Police, following a botched selection process conducted in secrecy that left final decision-making in the hands of unaccountable actors selected by the mayor, with no oversight. Following an uproar from the community—largely rooted in the racial implications—after Best was eliminated from consideration for unknown reasons, Durkan reversed course and not only agreed to reconsider Best, but appointed her to the permanent position in August 2018.

Beware the framing of this as a win, when in fact the process itself was so broken that it did more harm than good. Had the process been transparent, legitimate, and competent, Best—a 26-year veteran to the force, a Black woman—would have been lauded and rewarded for her very real achievements. Instead, she became Chief of Police with a permanent asterisk attached to her promotion —not because she didn’t deserve it, but because white dominant culture moved her through a flawed process that humiliated her and eroded trust in the legitimacy of that process, while also reinforcing racist tropes that the success of communities of color comes only at the benevolent hands of a white savior. Here, the story is familiarly white and dominant—that the savior (Durkan) blessed an undeserving African American (Best), not because she had earned it, but to placate a protesting minority community.  Gratitude should flow.

No white mayor of any major city, having once been a federal prosecutor, has lived in any space devoid of privilege.

I worked for the City when the mayor nominated Jason Johnson to direct the Human Services Department, and then withdrew his nomination amidst a surge of grievances expressed by department employees and City council members that the process had been flawed, and carried with it serious racial implications.  Again, the mayor evinced a tone deafness, responding by installing Jason as an interim director indefinitely, as if her personal pride were more important than the ongoing trauma woven into the fabric American racism. And, as leadership under the interim director has borne out, promoting people unqualified to the challenges of the times ensures a legacy of destruction and oppression, as they, in turn, preside over the hiring of more people unprepared to lead on these issues.

As a City employee, I have sat in numerous rooms when the mayor has mentioned the fact that she was the first out lesbian federal prosecutor in the United States in response to direct questions about how she plans to address the very real concerns of institutional racism in the City’s administrative, social, and political structures. No white mayor of any major city, having once been a federal prosecutor, has lived in any space devoid of privilege.    Continue reading “Dear Mayor Durkan: A Letter From a City Employee”